HOT DOCS World Premiere — Special Ed — from Award-Winning Director John Paskievich; Produced by Spellburg
Pictures Inc. and CSA Award-winners Merit Motion Pictures; Starring Ed Ackerman
TORONTO and WINNIPEG, March 20, 2013 /CNW/ - To some he's a
nonconformist and a dreamer, a modern-day Don Quixote, a genuine
artist, obsessed with the alphabet, whose masterpiece remains
perpetually beyond his reach, and a rare individualist in a world where
quiet desperation is the general rule of survival.
And to those who know him really well, Ed Ackerman is a walking catastrophe, lost to his implausible ambitions, a
manipulator of the truth or maybe a misguided genius, and definitely a
procrastinator. Above all, regardless of one's viewpoint, he's one
When Ed, the one-time protégé of the National Film Board's vaunted
animation studio — his award-winning collaboration with poet Colin
Morton, Primiti Too Taa, was a world-wide festival and art house hit in the late 1980s —
decides to leave a legacy for his three children (all virtual strangers
to him now, after two failed marriages and lost custody battles), he
buys three derelict houses in a rundown corridor on the bad side of
Winnipeg and announces grand plans to renovate and redeem them.
Trouble is, Ed, 52, is broke, and has next to no experience in house
construction, nor the faintest idea about how to begin his massive
projects, let alone how to finish them. Finishing, we learn in Special Ed, multi-award-winning documentary filmmaker John Paskievich's remarkable study of an artist in the dog days of a 20-year downward
spiral, is Ed's biggest problem.
He can't finish anything, complains Ed's son, Brandon, who is persuaded
by his father to become his sidekick in the renovation farce. And to
his credit, Brandon stays on through thick and thin, until Ed's
sideline dramas — playing fast and loose with city planning and zoning
officials, running a rag-tag campaign first for Parliament, then for
mayor, presenting himself as a rugged spokesman for the dispossessed,
venting his dreams of creating a great animated movie about the
alphabet — threaten to drag him under as well.
Paskievich says he chose the title Special Ed for three reasons. First, Ed Ackerman is truly a special personality,
like no other. The title also implies some type of undiagnosed learning
disability. While Ed rejects being labeled, he freely admits that his
inability to spell caused him enormous anguish in school.
"And finally, Ed's house renovation projects are partially motivated by
his dream to establish a studio where he can complete an alphabet
animation film that he hopes will serve as a form of special education
for teachers to use with kids who have problems with spelling, reading
and writing," explains Paskievich, whose films Unspeakable and If Only I Were An Indian have also premiered at past Hot Docs festivals.
Ed's ongoing relationships with the distinctive "personalities" of the
individual letters in the alphabet are referenced in the film in clever
stop-action sequences that are the core of his presentation to Winnipeg
municipal authorities defending his claim to the endangered derelict
Avoiding sentimentality and the kind of "nostalgia for the mud" trap
that quirky character studies often fall into, Paskievich watches
dispassionately, over three years, as his subject's plans unravel and
Ed's increasingly antic behaviour alienates those who might have been
willing to help his dreams come true.
In addition to Ed's son, disaffected characters in his story include a
loving girlfriend, a well-intentioned neighbour, a homeless friend in
need of companionship, and the long-suffering by-law inspectors whom
the film's anti-hero so relentlessly provokes.
"Ed never lets a solution get in the way of a good problem," says
"Maybe I should write a self-help anger management manual for people who
find themselves dealing with Ed — housing inspectors, judges, the
police, film producers, neighbours friends, relatives. It would be a
bestseller in Canada."
Co-producer Merit Jensen Carr, executive producer and president of Winnipeg-based Merit Motion Pictures, has known Ed for 30 years.
"His story is so endlessly fascinating that when I saw John's footage, I
just had to be a part of it," she says.
"John has made a film that provokes all the important questions about
how artists and eccentrics collide with society."
Is Ed special? Paskievich's film asks. If so, in what sense? Is he a
playful illusionist whose passion and peccadilloes make him a true
visionary, beyond judgment?
Is Ed a harmless huckster of pipe dreams who gets by on the kindness of
strangers, on comic Chaplin-esque responses to a world too tough to
Or is there a whiff here of madness, the kind that often accompanies
then corrodes genius, when fears of failure continually prevent any
kind of progress, let alone success?
In the end, viewers of this compelling portrait, shot on the streets of
Winnipeg, will have to find their own answers. Infuriating and perverse
as Ed is, Paskievich provides a glimpse of something in his subject's
wounded soul and mind that begs our understanding, admiration and
Whether we see it too says as much about our own humanity as it says
about Ed Ackerman and his Sisyphean travails.
For more information and images, go to
Special Ed screenings at Hot Docs:
Mon. April 29, 6 p.m., TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
Tues. April 30, 10.30 a.m., ROM Theatre
Sat. May 4, 9.15 p.m., Innis Town Hall
Screening with Citizens Against Basswood
SOURCE: Merit Motion Pictures
For further information: